This beautiful oil painting, entitled ‘Crossing the Desert’, was painted by the French artist, Narcisse Berchère. Berchère travelled to Egypt in the mid-19th Century, where he became well-acquainted with the most important Orientalist painters of the 19th Century, including the painter Jean-Léon Gérôme, and sculptor, Auguste Bartholdi. In 1856, Berchère embarked on a journey across the Sinai Peninsula, accompanied by the painter Jean-Léon-Belly. This journey may have inspired this painting, which depicts a group of people on camel-back, walking across a desert landscape.
‘Crossing the Desert’ depicts a group of around forty camels, some of which are ridden, and others loaded with bags and led by harnesses. On the left, men ride camels across a great pool of water, and emerge on the right, to join the rest of the group. On the right, a group of figures have dismounted, and gather together to talk. The camel-riders hold long staffs and are wrapped in light-coloured clothing to protect against the harsh desert weather conditions. Two donkeys accompany the group, and a dog stands in the right-hand foreground.
Berchère has masterfully painted this picture. In terms of the composition, Berchère places the vanishing point off to the right of the canvas, and arranges his figures so that they move from the distance on the left, to the foreground on the right. This creates a dynamic sense of movement and helps to create the illusion of spatial depth. The desert landscape, as a result, appears vast and magnificent. ‘Crossing the Desert’ is also a technical masterpiece. The landscape and figures within it are naturalistically portrayed, with every detail carefully rendered. The detail of the group’s reflections in the still water, for instance, is exceptional. Berchère has employed short, well-blended strokes of colour, applying thicker daubs of white to paint the waves and splashes on the water caused by the walking group.
The canvas is signed ‘Berchere’, and it has been placed within a carved, giltwood frame, which is mounted with the title plaque, ‘CROSSING THE DESERT/ BY/ N. BERCHERE.’
The dimensions of the canvas and frame are as follows:
Canvas- Height 97cm, width 148cm
Frame- Height 140cm, width 190cm, depth 11cm